By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
June 16, 2017
RALEIGH – Two alcohol measures were taken up for discussion in the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee on Thursday.
The first, SB 604 – Homemade Alcoholic Beverage Tasting Permit, would create a new homemade alcoholic beverage competition and tasting permit, modifying several existing permits to add homemade malt beverages to the types of alcoholic beverages that can be served.
The driving force behind this legislation is the Beer Army Foundation, a non-profit organization that says on its website that its purpose is to “educate lawmakers and the general public…on the economic impact that a thriving statewide homebrew community can provide.” They want to “make it legal to share, sample and consume homebrews at public and charitable events; and legalize homebrew contests and meetings.”
SB 604 has five objectives:
First, expand the malt beverage permit to include homebrew meetings or events serving homemade malt beverages.
Second, modify the current special occasion permit to include homemade malt beverages, meads, wines, and fermented fruit juices that can be served to guests.
Third, modify the limited special occasion permit to include donated home brews, meads, wines, and fermented fruit juices that can be served to guests.
Fourth, create a homemade alcoholic beverage competition and tasting permit that would allow the holder to host an organized affair, exhibition, or competition, where homebrews would be served.
Fifth, make the holder of any homemade alcoholic beverage competition and tasting permit solely liable for any possible violations with respect to the age of persons serving or being served, whether the consumer is being charged for any homemade brew, and whether consumers have paid an admission fee.
During the period for public comment on the initiative, Renee Metz, chief counsel for the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, rose to say that the commission had significant concerns about the bill because of its potential for harms.
“There is absolutely no monitoring of this product, whatsoever,” said Metz. “There are no labeling requirements. And so, just about anything can be put into these products and served to the public.”
Metz went on to argue that NC ABC had no objections to homebrewers, their products, or sharing with each other, but when these products are presented to the public it becomes a matter of public health and safety.
She added the ABC Commission rarely expresses an opinion on legislation, but with this measure, they felt it was incumbent upon them to warn lawmakers that the bill raises serious health and safety concerns.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said he was very thankful that the NC ABC took the stand they did.
“Whatever people do in the privacy of their own homes, even if they should unintentionally poison themselves or their own family members, is one matter. But it is another matter altogether when it involves the public,” he said. “This bill is far from ready for prime time, and, therefore, I think its supporters should withdraw it, send it back to the drawing board for additional work, or lawmakers should defeat it.”
No action was taking on the bill.
The second bill taken up by the committee was HB 500 – ABC Omnibus Legislation.
Dr. Creech previously referred to this bill as the worst alcohol proposal he had seen in twenty years.
In its original form, the legislation would have raised the current limit on the number of barrels a brewery could self-distribute directly to retailers without working through a middleman, a wholesaler, from 25,000 barrels annually to 200,000. This provision in the measure, which made it exceedingly controversial, was stripped from the bill on the House side.
If the legislation had passed as originally written, it would have done severe damage to the state’s Three-Tier system of alcohol control, made up of manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and retailers.
The Three-Tier system is an indispensable means for reducing harms that are inherently attached to the marketing and sale of beverage alcohol.
HB 500 passed the House 95-25, April 26th.
Most of the bill’s current 11 provisions clarify the law for the ever-expanding craft brewing industry.
However, section 10 remains a matter of great concern to the Christian Action League.
One Senate member of the committee called on Dr. Creech to speak to HB 500. Creech focused his comments on Section 10 and argued that the bill would allow a governing body of a city or a county to overturn the results of an alcohol election in a dry area on behalf of a farm brewery.
“Sponsors of this legislation will argue that we already allow wineries the privilege of selling their products regardless of the results of an alcohol election, and the process suggested here for breweries would actually be a heightened process, one requiring the additional step of approval by the governing body where the brewery is located,” he said. “It’s not that the Christian Action League doesn’t appreciate this heightened process for breweries, but two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Creech went on to say, “No matter whether allowed for a winery or a brewery, a circumvention of the people’s vote – having their vote nullified by this body or a local one – is a grievous political injustice against the electorate.”
Creech told lawmakers that if they allowed HB 500 to pass with Section 10 in the bill, they would in some cases be overturning the will of the people and giving an election victory to those who did not actually win.
There are approximately 30 counties in the Tar Heel state that are dry in unincorporated areas. Most counties are “partially wet,” meaning they have alcohol sales within a city or town within the county.
A vote on HB 500 is expected sometime next week.